Monday, August 30, 2010

Birthday Treat

All I really wanted for my birthday was for Larry to go to the airport and retrieve my cell phone that I stupidly left at the security checkpoint last weekend. Lost and Found is not open early, late or even during lunch and I just couldn’t figure out when I could get there. He graciously granted my birthday wish and retrieved the phone for me. I promised him I'd tell everyone it was the best present ever.

But we had already planned to attend a dessert and wine pairing at J.Lohr Winery for my birthday celebration before the cell phone fiasco, and I wasn’t about to suggest cancelling that. We’d never been to the winery, located conveniently near downtown San Jose and I was looking forward to the event.

It turned out to be a wonderful evening. We were greeted by Lawrence Lohr, the Director of Wine Education and his wife Emily. While everyone gathered, they served a savory nut mix along with a rosé and a viognier. When we were seated at the table, I was beside Steve Lohr, the COO. I was impressed that it was such a family operation they would actually be at the evening's event.

The pairing menu consisted of :

Plum and Marscapone Trifle                                   
2009 J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay           

Apricot and Blueberry Spring Roll
2009 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguie

Chocolate Goat Cheese Ice Cream
2008 J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah

Blackberry Pot de Crème
2009 J. Lohr Gesture Zinfandel

Cherry Upside Down Cake
2007 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon

Peach and White Nectarine Galette
J. Lohr Late Harvest White Riesling

The desserts were created by Chef Jaimie Casey of JC Culinary who was recently featured in an article in the San Jose Mercury News. She graciously shared all her recipes with the attendees and her loyal followers assured everyone that her creations were easily reproducible.

I usually think of serving dessert wines with dessert rather than some of these wine selections. One reason these pairings worked so well is that most of the desserts were not excessively sweet. I was quite surprised by the trifle/chardonnay pairing, but the wine was used in the dessert recipe and since it was an unoaked chardonnay it complimented the fruit nicely.

All the desserts were fabulous. The chocolate goat cheese ice cream was quite unique. I am not a huge syrah fan, but the rich and creamy ice cream reduced the bite of the tannins for me and made the pairing quite enjoyable. The cabernet paired with the cherry upside-down cake had a lovely cherry bouquet which enhanced this pairing. The cabernet sherbet served with the cake was a magical touch.

As much as I loved all of these, I guess I’m still a sucker for the sweets. My favorite dessert was the Peach and White Nectarine Galette paired with the Late Harvest Riesling. I wrote FABULOUS! in my notes. It was the perfect ending for the evening. We had such a great time, we will definitely return for more of their pairing events in the future.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Party Line

Yesterday Larry asked me if I remembered when we were children and our telephones had party lines. We laughed over those days and how if you knew who had which ring, you could just pick up the phone and join in the conversation. That seems a lot like FaceBook to me. Everyone can just chime into the conversation. I resisted FaceBook for a long time, but finally after my son created my account and invited people to be my friends, I had little choice. I enjoyed all the birthday greetings yesterday from people on FaceBook who otherwise would not have known to chime in and wish me happy birthday birthday.

I posted this picture on my profile for the day. It’s the only childhood birthday party I can ever remember having. My family didn’t really make a big deal over birthdays. My son’s birthday was close to Halloween and I always wanted to throw Halloween themed birthday parties for him. But even he didn’t want to fuss over birthdays. He only let me do it once when he was 10.

But back to the party lines, yesterday was more like a line of parties. We held a retirement lunch for my former boss of 15 years who will be greatly missed. Followed that with a surprise birthday celebration for me and another coworker. Then we tried to pull off a surprise retirement party for another coworker, but she left early so it fell through.

Then when I got home, there was my annual birthday dinner cooked by our friend Paul. I’ve written before about our birthday dinner traditions with them and this was my turn to be the recipient. Dinner began with a refreshing minted peach and cantaloupe soup. The entrée was Brazilian chicken and shrimp with rice. The poached chicken was very tender and the sauce had just a hint of heat.

And for dessert there was hump cake. Don’t ask…… But I will say that the story began seven or eight years ago when I purchased (or I thought I had) a cathedral Bundt cake pan for Paul for Christmas. We take turns and each unwrap our gifts one at a time so that we can all admire them. When Paul unwrapped his box, he seemed pleased by the picture of the pan on the carton. When he opened the sealed carton, there was nothing inside. Absolutely nothing. The box was empty. With a very puzzled look, his daughter Sarah, who was then six or seven, looked at me and asked, “You gave him an empty box?” Like, it’s a Christmas present, why would you do such a thing???!!! her expression said. And so began the saga of the hump cake. Sarah is now a young lady of 15 and we still tease her relentlessly regarding the contributions she has made to our families’ lore. Unfortunately for her, the stories continue on and on and on, every time we gather, particularly to eat cake. It’s the party line.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Weekend in Southern California

No famers’ market shopping this weekend, so I have no idea what we’re going to eat. Last night I had yogurt and a banana for dinner. It was so hot (my thermometer said 107) I wasn't really hungry anyway. We do have a good excuse for not shopping on Sunday. We made a quick trip south for the weekend to see how much my one month old grandson has grown. Our plan was to do some grocery shopping for them, make a menu plan and do a lot of the prep work and some cooking so they would have meals for the week ahead.
But….when I walked through the door and greeted little Isaac lying in his mother’s lap, he turned his head at my voice and smiled. He remembered me! All my plans flew out the window and all I wanted to do was cuddle and hold him. I spent the weekend doing just that. Rocking, walking,and entertaining him with imaginative adventures while his mom and dad rested or tackled a few tasks.

All our meals were take-out. No cooking materialized. But we ate twice from a great local restaurant that has become one of their favorites. Sea Casa is a small place in Westlake Village that specializes in fresh Mexican cuisine. It is so convenient, reasonably priced and tasty that we made no effort to eat somewhere else. The first night I had a chicken burrito that was far too large to finish. My daughter-in-law’s tostada salad looked so enticing I ordered it on Sunday. I was so famished, I failed to snap a photo to show how beautiful it was prior to devoouring it. I did manage to get a shot of my daughter-in-law’s Sunday choice, a chicken torta. Every order comes with chips and there is an extensive salsa bar with a variety of fresh, homemade salsas to choose from. We tried them all!

Then on Sunday, of course, we returned to Paciugo’s for gelato. I tried several new flavors, but always return to the Mediterranean sea salt caramel. It made for a strange combination, but it was such a blistering hot day (by my Northern California standards of this summer), I wanted something fresh and fruity. So my second flavor was wild berry. I also tasted a very refreshing non-dairy blackberry cabernet gelato, but my daughter-in-law snagged the last scoop.

Now we are home and have no food. I did see where there is a Wednesday night farmers’ market not too far away. But it’s over 100 degrees again today, so maybe I’ll just have yogurt again.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Way Too Much Fruit

I realized by Tuesday that we had purchased entirely too much fruit at the farmers’ market this week. Even though the weather is unusually cool for August, everything is ripening very quickly just sitting on the kitchen counter. I can eat peaches, nectarines and nectaplums three meals a day, but even that wasn’t going to be enough this week.

I had already planned a salad of nectarines on arugula which is a summer favorite for us. With a creamy chive dressing, it made a sweet accompaniment to contrast the spicy dishes we had that night. The salmon was grilled with fennel and coriander and we also had the blackened grilled corn with Bina’s magic spice mixture again. We opened a bottle of wine that came in a recent Sunset wine club shipment. One of the intriguing aspects about this wine club is that we get wines we’ve never heard of, so they are always a surprise. Just reading the description of Treana 2008 Central Coast White led us to believe it might pair well with the spice and heat of our menu and indeed it was a good match.

I’ve wanted to try the nectarine-frangipane galette I saw on Carolyn Jung’s blog, Food Gal, recently and this seemed like a good time with my abundance of stone fruit. I used peaches, rather than nectarines, since I had more. I haven’t made a pastry in a REALLY long time. It’s not one of my favorite things to do. And I’ve never made one in a food processor. This was amazingly easy. The only problem was that when I got to the part where the recipe says “…mix together flour, sugar and salt….” and there was no salt listed on the ingredients! What to do??!! So I guessed. And either I’m a good guesser, or I know more about pastry than I realized because when I queried Carolyn, she said ½ tsp of salt. That’s exactly what I guessed. So take note of that if you decide to try the recipe. And if you’re not a regular reader of Carolyn’s blog, check it out. It is one of my favorites.

Still had too much fruit. I also saw a recipe for a stone fruit chutney in Bon Apetit magazine. I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I decided to wing it. Here’s what I used:

Stone Fruit Chutney

1 ripe peach
1 ripe yellow nectarine
1 ripe white nectarine
1 ripe nectaplum
1 ripe plum
2 Tbsp sugar
1 ½ Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp pomegranate white wine vinegar
½ tsp garam masala

The original recipe called for cherries, which I didn’t have, and regular white wine vinegar. I used part pomegranate vinegar to add the tang missing from the cherries. It also called for way more sugar and I think I could still have used a little less. It didn’t call for a nectaplum , either, since most people have never heard of them. Use what you have!

Cut up the fruit, add sugar and let sit at room temperature, covered for an hour. Add vinegar, stir and refrigerate.

I had the chutney for lunch on goat cheese crostini. The recipe suggested putting it on cheese toast made with brioche and brie, which sounded deliciously decadent. But I’m trying to use what I have, not go get more ingredients. I also made a breakfast parfait with yogurt and granola, which was superb. My favorite combination has been Greek yogurt, granola, chutney and almonds – having that again tomorrow. The uses for the chutney are endless. Pork roast might be the next purpose it finds.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Golden Beet Experiment

Remember those beets in the photo from me at the farmers’ market on Sunday? They were so gorgeous, but I had no idea what I was going to do with them. When I was growing up, most of our vegetables came from a can. So you can imagine why I developed an aversion to beets. Canned beets are just not on a list of most people’s favorite foods. I really only learned to LOVE beets when we ate borscht over and over and over again, every single day on a trip to Poland in the early 1990’s. Since then, I usually roast them with other vegetables or put them in a salad. Sometimes I make borscht.

Although the weather is unusually cool already, I’m just not ready to commit to fall yet. It’s still August. And to me, oven roasted vegetables are for fall and winter. I’m a very seasonal person, so in the summer I want food that epitomizes summer, in the winter, I eat winter comfort food. You get the picture. So what should I do with those beautiful beets for a summer season dish?

I saw a recipe in Farmers’ Market magazine for a golden beet smoothie made with Greek yogurt. I thought that might be interesting. But Larry said no way. No beet smoothie. But it made me think that maybe I could come up with a light summery beet soup with a yogurt base. The final result didn't actually use the yogurt in the soup base because once I tasted it, the beet flavor was so lovely, I didn't want to dilute it. The yogurt became a garnish.

Golden Beet Summer Soup
2 servings

1 can low salt chicken broth
4 golden beets
1 Tbsp heavy cream
½ tsp lemon zest, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh chives chopped
Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper

Wash beets, wrap in foil and bake in oven at 400 degrees until fork tender (about an hour). When cool, skin the beets. Beets can be refrigerated at this point for later use, or proceed with soup. Chop beets into cubes.

Heat chicken broth and beets in medium saucepan. Puree in blender or with immersion blender until smooth. Add cream, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and fresh chives.

This makes a nice light, very beet-flavored soup. I served it with a green salad and crostini topped with goat cheese and chives. My experiment got rave reviews from my husband. He thought the goat cheese crostini made the perfect accompaniment for the soup. I doubt the smoothie would have met with the same accolades.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spanish Sensations

Food, wine and flamenco on a gorgeous, sunny day. Could there be a better way to spend a Saturday? I think not. We spent the day at the Kendall Jackson Wine Center for the annual summer wine club members barbecue. The theme was Spanish Sensations.

We were greeted in KJ’s beautiful 120 acre garden with wine (of course), hors d’oevres, and their famous verjus sangria slushie. A beautiful, deep purple, fruity drink, the slushie was perfect for a warm afternoon with a Spanish theme. You can find the recipe on their website, but I’ll include it here, in case you want to create it for an upcoming party. The recipe makes 2 ½ gallons.


• 1 bottle Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir
• 5 bottles Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel
• 2 bottles Kendall-Jackson Syrah
• 1 1/2 C. sugar
• 1 bottle red verjus
• 1 C. pomegranate molasses (Carlo brand)
• 2 oranges, juiced
• 2 lemons, juiced
• 1 C. Pama pomegranate liqueur
• 6 C. assorted frozen red fruits and berries (such as blackberries, cherries and strawberries)

Make the wine mixture and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, add the frozen fruit and blend until smooth. Also works with a slushie machine if you happen to have one! If you're using a slushie machine, you can use fresh fruit.

We wandered through gardens and the rows of grapes in the vineyard. The grapes are all ripening a little behind schedule from the cool weather. Lunch was a buffet of paella cooked on the spot, brimming with shrimp, chicken and mussels, as well as a buffet of Spanish meats, cheeses and vegetables. And of course, a varied selection of their wines was available to go along with the meal. My favorite to accompany the Spanish flavors was the Grand Reserve Zinfandel, but I did try several of the other offerings.

After lunch we were entertained with flamenco music and dancers. There was a raffle with lots of prizes, but of course, I never win anything. Never mind, it was a great event, we picked up our shipment, bought a couple more bottles of wine and my only regret is that I didn’t take more photos.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Farmers' Market Menus

Every week at the farmers’ market is a new adventure. I always look forward to seeing what new arrivals will make an appearance. We make one pass tasting all the varieties of fruits, inspecting the flowers and checking out the various offerings. The second pass is for making our selections. Every stall is a visual work of art. Some purchases are a given. Bread from Acme Bread, tomatoes from my favorite “Tomato Guy” and Brentwood white corn. For many purchases I gravitate toward the vendors who provide plenty of samples so I can choose which flavors appeal to me on a given day. Recent purchases included red and yellow peppers, Thai bird chilis, golden beets, strawberries, peaches, peppers, green beans, grapes, lots of tomatoes, plums, nectaplums, yellow cauliflower, figs, cucumbers, corn, basil, cilantro and flowers. Usually I prefer white nectarines, but the summer has been so cool and the growing season so late, the yellow nectarines were actually sweeter than the white this week so we got a few of those as well.

When I arrive home with all the purchases, I spread the bounty on the kitchen counter for viewing and plan the menu for the week. Next I make the grocery list for the other items we need. This week there was a very short list. We really only needed the meat and seafood. Larry loves it when I don’t send him to four different stores in search of exotic ingredients.

This week the menu plan is (I’ve highlighted the farmers' market ingredients) :

Heirloom tomato and corn “pizza” (basil and Acme herb slab) This was a great alternative to our usual Sunday lunch routine of heirloom tomato salad with bread and cheese

Grilled stuffed figs
Spicy Chicken Peperonata with Lime and Mint Dressing (Red and yellow peppers, chilis)
Garlic Green Beans
(This was also a big success)

Cheeseburger with Spinach/Arugula Pesto on Acme herb slab 
Tomato/Watermelon/Feta Salad (Check off another good meal!)

Fennel and Coriander Spiced Salmon
Arugula and Peach Salad
Corn with Indian Spices

Grilled halibut
Crispy cauliflower
Tomato/Yellow pepper crostini
Peach galette

Golden beet soup with goat cheese crostini
Tomato and cucumber salad

This week will also have some great fruit salads and smoothies for lunch with the abundance of fruit we purchased. Today's lunch included a salad of strawberries, banana, nectarine and nectaplum. Sliced or blended, alone or in combination, nothing says summer like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buitoni Vegetable Challenge

Lately, I’ve been trying so many of the great recipes I find from my friends on FoodBuzz that I don’t have enough time to make my own dishes. It’s really fun to read about what other people like to cook and try out their favorites, but once in a while I need to work on my own recipes. In the month of August, Buitoni is sponsoring a contest challenging readers to pair a vegetable dish with one of their pastas. I don’t purchase ready-made pasta very often, but I thought it would be fun to see what I could devise. I decided  on the Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti for my vegetable pairing.

When the pasta arrived home from the grocery store and I read the ingredients, it sounded even better than I expected. Portobello and crimini mushrooms, roasted garlic and Grana Padano and Parmesan cheese inside the raviolis. And the flavor did not disappoint. I'll definitely purchase this again.

Grilled vegetables with a roasted red pepper sauce make a nice complement for the pasta. Lots of colors to contrast the raviolis and the smoky grilled flavor goes well with the mushrooms. The rich, yet tangy red pepper sauce makes a nice contrast to the earthiness of the mushrooms. This recipe makes 3 servings with the package of Buitoni pasta.

Grilled Vegetables
2 small zucchini, sliced
2 small yellow pattypan squash, quartered
½ red onion, cut into chunks
2 small eggplants, sliced
½ yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into strips
10 green beans (approximately)
8 large basil leaves, chopped

Toss vegetables with olive oil. Cook vegetables on grill in a grill basket until tender.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
2 ½ large red bell peppers
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/8 c Greek yogurt
¼ c  heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Halve peppers and remove ribs and seeds. Spray with olive oil, char on grill or broil in oven until black. Place in closed paper bag for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove skin from peppers and chop. Put peppers, garlic, yogurt and cream in food processor and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve vegetables with pasta. Reheat red pepper sauce on stove until warm and serve over vegetables and pasta. Garnish with chopped basil to serve.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Corn and Tomatoes

In the summer we eat a lot of corn and tomatoes. We don’t have a place to grow vegetables, and I’m not a very successful gardener anyway, but that’s okay since I love going to the farmers’ market to buy produce. I attribute my love of fresh vegetables to my grandfather. I sure didn’t get them often at home. I was raised on all things boxed, canned and frozen. But my grandfather always had a garden. My grandmother may have been the traditional Southerner who cooked the vegetables all day, but at least they were fresh from the garden.

Everywhere my grandparents lived was a neighborhood with dense housing, but coming from Kansas farm country, my grandfather always found a way to have a garden. He became quite an expert at growing a variety of vegetables and berries in a very small space. Once he even confiscated the empty lot next door to their apartment to grow corn and sunflowers. His picture was in the newspaper for having such tall sunflowers. But the next year they built an office building on the lot.

Last night we weren’t very hungry. So our dinner was a lightly boiled corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes. That was it. But if you want more than that, I recently tried another good recipe combining corn and tomatoes. As is often the case, the recipe came from Bon Apetit magazine, but I have adapted it to meet our smaller serving requirements, changed it up and turned it into a main course recipe. Enjoy!

Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto

4 slices pancetta
Corn cut from 3 large ears
Clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ c freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
¼ c pine nuts, toasted
Extra virgin olive oil
4 oz fettuccine
½ chopped basil, divided
½ basket cherry tomatoes

1 boneless chicken breast, grilled (or purchased grilled chicken strips)

Cook pancetta over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp of drippings from skillet. Add corn, garlic, salt and pepper to drippings in skillet. Saute over medium heat until corn is tender, but not brown, about four minutes. Transfer 1 cup of the corn to a small bowl and reserve. Scrape the remaining corn mixture into food processor. Add cheese and pine nuts. With processor running, add olive oil through feed tube and blend, until mixture is smooth and to desired consistency. Set pesto aside.

Grill or broil chicken breast (unless you’re using purchased already cooked chicken strips). Cut chicken into bite sized strips or chunks.

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving 1 c of pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot, add corn pesto, reserved corn kernels and most of the basil. Toss over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid in small amounts to thin to desired consistency. Add chicken breast strips; salt and pepper to taste. Top with crumbled pancetta, cherry tomatoes, remaining basil and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Something for Sunday morning

I wanted a treat for breakfast this sunny, but cool, Sunday morning. And it’s just for me because Larry is away for a golf weekend. I don’t have much time since I want to make it to the farmers’ market early. It has to be something I can cook with what I have on hand.

French toast. I have a recipe that I got from a weight loss diet about 35 years ago. Often French toast is too heavy for me early in the morning, but this is lighter and lower in fat than the average recipe and I’ve been using it for years. This is the single serving version that I made for myself, but just multiply by as many servings as you want and it works perfectly well.

For each serving:
¼ c non-fat milk
1 egg
½ tsp cinnamon
Dash of orange juice
2 slices whole grain bread

Whisk first four ingredients in a flat dish. Soak bread in the liquid mixture, alternating sides until all liquid is absorbed. Heat pat of butter in frying pan. Cook both sides of toast until brown and crispy and cooked throughout.

Today instead of syrup, I used pureed blackberries. You could use the sauce recipe in my blackberry parfait in the Tasty Tea Cookies post. But I was in a hurry, so I saved a couple of whole berries for garnish and threw the rest of them in the Magic Bullet, along with a little orange juice and cinnamon. It was pretty thick so it made a good dipping sauce for the toast. Well fed, I am now off to the farmers’ market.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Eat MoBowl!

That’s what Kevin says. He’s the proprietor of the mobile food truck, MoBowl. Did you get the pun? My husband didn’t, but I think it’s quite clever. And this week I had the opportunity to check out the rice bowls at MoBowl when the truck came to my office. I can’t remember ever eating from a truck before, but since I know Kevin, I thought it was a fairly safe proposition. I eat street food in places like Brazil, so why should I worry?

Food trucks are the hot new culinary adventure. More and more restaurants are starting up mobile versions of their offerings and entrepreneurial chefs are recognizing the mobile truck as an opportunity to start up their own businesses. Oh, I did eat at Sam’s Chowder Mobile and that’s a truck. It was excellent.

And so was MoBowl. I was not really expecting the food to look so appealing. It looked as good as it tasted. I had the five-spice pulled pork bowl and the cheesecake eggrolls. The pork was tender and flavorful, served with rice and a green salad. I especially loved the cracked pepper pineapple dipping sauce that came with the  eggrolls. It was really more than I could eat, so I shared the eggrolls. My dining companions had the angel (chicken) wings and the umami tofu bowl. They had compliments for both.

So if you are in the South Bay or on the Peninsula, check out MoBowl’s website for their lunch location each weekday. Good luck, Kevin! I'll certainly be lunching with you again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What's a Nectaplum?

Do you know? Have you ever eaten one? If not, you are missing a piece of heaven. I discovered nectaplums a couple of summers ago tasting all the fruit at the farmers’ market. I hate to admit that I don’t like plums or apricots or pluots, but I keep trying all the different varieties in hopes of changing my mind (or palate). I also don’t like white peaches or yellow nectarines. Only  yellow peaches and white nectarines. During this tasting process, I stumbled upon the nectaplum and in one bite, the ensuing explosion of flavor changed everything.

Now I wait all year for the first Sunday in August when the nectaplums are likely to arrive at the farmers’ market. “They’re here! They’re here!” I shrieked in delight to my husband his week when I found them on the tasting table. They’re only available for about a month, so the experience must be enjoyed to the fullest. Last year, we were in South Africa for most of August and even though it was a fantastic trip, I was dismayed to miss nectaplum season! This year, we're staying closer to home.

The Spice Zee nectaplum is a complex hybrid developed by Zaiger’s Genetics in Modesto, CA. The fruit has a dark skin and white flesh and the flavor is both sweet and spicy with low acidity. When you cut it open, it just drips sweet and juicy. I’ve never tried cooking with a nectaplum and never will. I just eat them, with or without the peel, breakfast, lunch and dinner until they disappear at the end of their short season. And then I must wait for them to arrive again. Something to look forward to. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Who needs a crust?

Not me. And it’s a good thing, because I don’t make pie crust. I probably could if I devoted a significant amount of effort, but it’s never been that important to me. I’m not a big pie eater. I’m not opposed to pie, I just generally prefer cake, cookies or ice cream when it comes to dessert.

But recently I saw a recipe on Chef Dennis’s blog for Peach Blueberry Custard Pie. The peaches are so good at the farmers’ market this summer, I was really tempted to try the pie. His recipe sounded really good. But I don’t make pies. And I don’t really like blueberries all that much either. But what if I made his pie without the crust and without the blueberries?

I sliced the peaches and put them into a 9 inch square baking dish, then put the custard mixture (using the greek yogurt option) on top. Baked according to his directions, but no blueberries. When I made the struesel for the top, I added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the mixture, otherwise followed his directions. Should I tell you that somehow the oven malfunctioned and it sat there for the second twenty minute cooking time with the struesel topping soaking into the semi-cooked custard? We really need a new oven. My husband insists I inadvertently turned it off instead of the timer. In spite of the soggy looking mess, I refused to toss it, turned the oven back on and cooked it the required additional twenty minutes.

My non-blueberry peach custard non-pie was great, still hot from the oven. In spite of the potential disaster and the soggy struesel. As you can see, it's not as pretty as Chef Dennis's pie, but it tasted fine. I guess it’s hard to wreck a good recipe. Who needs a crust? Not me. Thanks for the inspiration, Chef Dennis.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Puro Peru

We are travelling to Peru in November for both a vacation and a volunteer assignment similar to what we have done in Brazil in the past. Friends from work suggested that we sample some Peruvian food in advance of our travels. The wife of one coworker is from Lima and another coworker has travelled in Peru and loves the cuisine. They compiled a list of their favorite local Peruvian restaurants for us to explore.So Saturday night we chose one at random for our first Peruvian dining adventure and headed to Puro Peru in Sunnyvale.

Our waitress recommended we start with traditional Peruvian drinks. I chose chica morada, a purple corn juice, because it sounded unlike anything I had ever tasted. Larry chose maracuya, passion fruit juice, which we often drank in Brazil. The chica morada was quite unusual. It was syrupy and sweet, rather like corn flavored Kool-Aid. They brought us a corn snack, very salty and crunchy, similar to unpopped popcorn except not so hard that it would break your teeth. It was pretty tasty and I thought it improved the flavor of the corn beverage.

For our first course, we ordered choros a la chalaca – mussels with red onion, cilantro and lime. Larry had never eaten mussels before, so this was a leap for him. We both enjoyed this appetizer. The tart combination of lime, red onion and cilantro was so good, I also ate most of the salad greens that came with the mussels, probably intended for decoration.

Larry ordered jalea which is fried shrimp, octopus, calamari, scallops and yucca with salsa criolla. The salsa criolla is a traditional Peruvian condiment, very simple, with a lot of punch. It consists of red onion, lime juice, cilantro and peppers. I will definitely try this one at home. So easy and SO good if you like spicy flavors.

At the suggestion of my friend, I ordered lomo saltado – beef with onion, peppers, tomatoes and French fries in a soy sauce. I found the French fries in the mixture a little strange, but that’s the point of trying new dishes from other cultures. I want to know what people eat in other parts of the world. Except for the organ meats. I don’t really want to try those.

We were also served an excellent spicy dipping sauce called rocoto. This is another traditional sauce that is served with any meal for Peruvians who like to add some spice and heat to their food. And since we do, too, I’ve looked up a recipe for this as well.

The food was good and the restaurant staff was so friendly and accommodating that if our experience at Puro Peru was an indication of what lies ahead, our trip to Peru will be an outstanding adventure.